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Let's Eat

Tender zucchini, Italian-style

By Ike DeLorenzo
Globe Correspondent / July 14, 2010

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FLORENCE, Italy — The produce, of course, is wonderful. The markets are a lesson in what vegetables can be. Zucchini is young, lithe, and delicate dark-green, an inch wide at most, and certainly less than a foot long, with a splash of tiny white dots in a linear pattern down the shiny side. A large, floppy, brilliant-orange blossom adorns the top end.

The American version of this fast-growing plant is overfertilized and harvested too late so it becomes thick, woody, and tasteless. Grating it for zucchini bread or simmering it in tomato sauce is merely disguising it.

In Florence, tender zucchini is sliced into chunks and sauteed along with the flower in olive oil with a single crushed tomato for color and flavor. Of course, variations are as infinite as the regions where it grows (everywhere) and the cooks living there. You might be served the dish with a splash of white wine, cracked peppercorns, parsley, even broken bits of pasta. The flowers are not some rare enhancement. They are part of the vegetable, and there should always be a few in the dish. The plant is harvested all summer, so we still have time to get it right.

Ike DeLorenzo can be reached at delorenzo@theideassection.com.